By Ekta R. Garg
Prompt: Push It—You are hiking where Minnesotans refer to as “Up North,” in the wild woods. Backpack on your back, canteen of water at your side, you are far from civilization, enjoying the trees and clear skies. As you round a bend in the trail, you almost stumble upon a metal box mounted on a post. There is a large red button in the middle of the box labelled PUSH.
Gretchen jerked on the straps of her backpack and hitched its weight. For a millisecond the weight shifted, and then it settled right back into its spot. The pack didn’t feel that heavy; she did it more out of habit than anything else. But she wondered for the second or third time that day whether she’d made the right choice to come out here alone.
Granted, she loved the outdoors. Loved hiking. No, it was more than that. When Gretchen made her way on the small mountain trails and stopped to peer between the trees at the expansive ravines, peace infused her soul and heart. Nothing mattered more than the birds chirping and the chattering of whatever woodland creatures called this peaks home.
Nothing mattered—not even Evan and his fake excuses. Not even the relationship that had exploded in her face. Out here her mind felt as clear at the mountain air and the cloudless sky. Evan claimed he wanted nothing to do with her. Here, she knew, she didn’t need to deal with him. She didn’t want to deal with him.
Gretchen grabbed her canteen and took a deep swig of water. Some of the water dribbled over her chin, and she brought her head back up and scrubbed the bottom of her face with the back of her hand. The coolness of the liquid slid down her throat, and she couldn’t help sighing in satisfaction.
She kept walking. The trees towered over her, some of the branches meeting across the skyscape high above her head. The dirt path, dotted with loose pebbles and leaves that had drifted from the trees, wound gently in one direction and then another. Just for kicks, Gretchen pulled out her cell phone. Two bars wavered, dropped to one, became three when she turned in a circle, then dropped to nothing. She turned off the screen, grinned at her reflection, and took a few steps ahead.
Around the next bend in the trail, she saw a box sitting on a tree stump and stopped in her tracks.
“Hello?” she called, looking around. “Is anyone out here?”
“Did someone drop this?”
She approached the box. If it was sitting in the middle of the mountains it couldn’t be dangerous…right?
As she got closer she saw a large red button on top. “Push” a label commanded, as if it had the right to tell her what to do. The shiny red plastic taunted her with raised silver letters, almost begging to be pressed.
She thought about Evan. Thought about how he said she didn’t know how to take risks. What was riskier than coming hiking all by herself?
Apparently, if a person looked, they could find something to up their game almost anywhere. She stepped forward and pushed the button. And waited.
At first nothing happened. Gretchen walked around the tree stump, brush a lock of her curly blonde hair out of her eyes. She stepped forward and extended a hand to push the button again when the stump began humming.
She stepped back several paces and only stopped when she found her back pressed against a tree. The stump kept humming, and then it began vibrating. Gretchen didn’t quite see the vibrations at first, but when the stump began shaking so hard that the box fell off the top she covered her mouth with her hand.
The top of the stump lifted into the air on a platform supported by a column of some type of material that looked like stone, although Gretchen couldn’t tell for sure. Suddenly she felt glad that the tree held her up. She didn’t trust her knees anymore.
The column of stone began to unfold, and within minutes it formed itself into something resembling a car without wheels. Another small panel opened on the “dashboard” area, and it began beeping. Gretchen pressed into the tree even more, but the humming and vibrating stopped. Only the beeping continued.
She glanced around as if someone might be watching her, but she couldn’t hear or see anything. She took a few steps toward the vehicle and stopped again. Looked around again; listened again. Not a sound. She kept moving toward the stone structure and reached for what looked like a door. Before touching the vehicle, she looked all around one last time. Then she got in, sat down, and touched her finger to a glowing green button that said, “Press here.”
Within moments Gretchen, the vehicle, and the tree stump disappeared. The only thing that remained was the box and the button.